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Spaces of Precarity: Migration, Spatiality and the Refugee Graphic Narrative

Project Scheme:
General Research Fund
Project Year:
Project Leader:
Dr BANERJEE, Bidisha
(Department of Literature and Cultural Studies)
Spaces of Precarity: Migration, Spatiality and the Refugee Graphic Narrative

The refugee crisis of the 21st century is one of the most challenging the globe has faced; today more than an estimated 68 million people are displaced from their homes. Postcolonial and diaspora studies have been slow to respond to the need to reconceptualize theories of migration in the context of the new age of migration. 

The traditional articulations of diasporic identity formation are lacking in theorizing refugee identities characterized by statelessness, violence and precarity. The kinds of transnational affiliations that foster diasporic identity formations are often absent in the case of refugees on the move as are the engendering of hybrid and cosmopolitan identities so celebrated in diaspora studies. Scholars like David Farrier (2011) and Agnes Woolley (2014) have called for diaspora studies to engage with questions of asylum and the “refugee crisis” of our time that has brought to the fore debates about national sovereignty, migration and border control. They underscore the importance of “envisioning new ways of belonging” (Woolley 2014, 9) for refugees. We wish to address this lacuna in diaspora studies by drawing attention to the spatialities of refugee migration as delineated in several refugee graphic narratives. The last decade has seen the publication of a number of Anglophone and Francophone graphic narratives often characterized as refugee graphic narratives, grappling as they do with the urgent questions raised by the refugee crisis. “Spaces of Precarity” considers the liminal and transitory spaces of migration spaces like refugee camps, borders and detention centres as well as the open seas often depicted in refugee graphic narratives. Following critics like Simon Gikandi (2010) and Giorgio Agamben (1998, 2000) who have theorized the refugee as a new kind of Other that challenges global cultural flows, this project argues that the depiction of these spaces in graphic literature, offers us new opportunities to theorize migration and diaspora based on reconfiguring spatiality. In doing so, this study brings together refugee studies, migration and diaspora studies as well as the study of graphic narratives. The project also considers the specific formal, narrative, and aesthetic features of graphic narratives including the spatiality of the graphic narrative’s page in an attempt to explore the ways in which the graphic form may be particularly suited to depicting the plight of refugees. At the same time, critical scrutiny of these features will also interrogate potential scenographical limits of the medium in representing the range of refugee experiences "appropriately."